How kidney cancer is diagnosed
Usually, the first thing you do it see your GP, who will examine you. You may have to have blood tests done to check the overall state of your health. If your GP is unsure of what the problem is or if they believe it may be cancer, they will send you to a hospital for specialist treatment and advice.
This test can be very useful in diagnosing kidney cancer. It uses sound waves to create an image of the inside of the abdomen, including the kidneys. The procedure is painless and only takes a few minutes.
A gel is spread over your abdomen and then a small device that emits ultrasound waves is used to form an image on a computer.
Ultrasound can be used to search for anomalies in the kidneys, establish whether a mass is a cyst or a tumor, or show the tumor's position and size.
- Intravenous urography
This test shows any abnormalities there may be in the kidneys or the urinary system. It is performed in the radiology department and takes about an hour.
Contrast media is injected into a vein—usually through an arm—and then travels throughout the blood stream to the kidneys. This is then examined on a computer screen, making it possible to check for abnormalities.
This procedure is often performed in conjunction with a CT can, and when this happens the procedure is called a CT urography.
- CT (computed tomography)
A CT takes a series of x-rays, creating a 3-D image of the inside of the body. It takes from 10 to 30 minutes and is painless. A small amount of radiation is used, though it is very unlikely to cause you any harm. You will be asked to refrain from eating and drinking for at least an hour before the procedure.
You may be given a drink or an injection with a dye, which makes it possible to see certain areas more clearly. This may make you feel hot for a few minutes. It is important that you inform your health professionals if you are allergic to iodine or have asthma, as you may have a reaction to the injection.
- Chest x-ray
This is often done to check the state of the lungs and heart.
This test is conducted when a person has blood in the urine (hematuria) in order to examine the lining of the bladder. It is usually done while the patient is under local anesthesia and lasts about 20 minutes.
A thin, flexible tube with a light on one end (cystoscope) is inserted through the urethra and the bladder, thus making it possible to see the entire lining.
- MRI (magnetic resonance imaging)
This test uses magnetism to build a detailed image of one of the areas of your body. The scanner is a powerful magnet, which is why you will be asked to fill out and sign a checklist and provide your consent. As part of this consent form, you will be asked if you have any implants such as a pacemaker or surgical clips. You should also tell your doctor if you have ever worked with metals or in the metal industry.
Before the scan, you will be asked to remove all metal belongings, including jewelery. Sometimes, a contrast dye is given by injection in a vein of the arm to help the images come through more clearly.
You will have to remain very still during the test, which lasts about 30 minutes. The process is painless but can be somewhat uncomfortable, and some people experience a bit of claustrophobia. It is also quite loud, though you will be given earplugs or headphones.
- Guided biopsy
This consists of taking a tissue sample from the kidney (biopsy) using an ultrasound or CT scanner to guide the needle to the exact place in the kidney where the procedure will be carried out. The sample is then analyzed under a microscope in the laboratory.
- Blood test
Blood samples are taken to check on the overall health of the patient, the number of cells in the blood, and to see how the kidneys and liver are functioning.